Several days ago, I asked my creative friends on Facebook which of their works defined them best. I learned something about each of them from their answers, but it was the question one asked me in return which led me to learn the most about myself. An author I admire both personally and professionally expressed a desire to read more of my work and wanted to know if I planned to write any more in the future. I can’t paraphrase what I said to her now because it wasn’t memorable. I know it wasn’t a lie. Of course, I plan to write; I just rarely get around to doing so.
I complete shopping lists, hand in reams of homework notes, and pen posts like this on a semi-regular basis. I’ve also managed to write two classes of what I’d consider a decent length over the last year. Despite that, none of those accomplishments are what I mean when I talk about my writing. I don’t believe my friend was referring to any of those things, either. Fiction remains my first love, and I suspect it is the same with her. Why, then, am I not writing it?
I want to blame my body. I’ve been diagnosed with more conditions over the last ten years than I can count on both hands, and many of them make it difficult to sit at a keyboard for long periods. Luckily enough, there’s almost always an app for that. Technology isn’t perfect, but it has provided me with numerous workarounds for my health problems. I often ignore them—and my writing—to do other things. When my conscience gnaws at me, I’m still apt to say fibromyalgia or carpal tunnel are at fault, even though I know I shouldn’t. I’m a magician, for Pete’s sake. I understand mind over matter. I’m also damned stubborn. When a doctor once told me I’d never lose weight, I walked out of his clinic and forced myself to shed 150 pounds. I struggle to keep it off, but I know I can do it. I know I could conquer the other physical problems keeping me from writing too—if I really wanted to do so.
Part of me must want it. My family frequently asks me if I’m brooding over something due to my faraway look, and I’ll have to admit I’m writing novels in my head. When on the treadmill or out for a walk by myself, I play the same albums over and over and watch as stories unfold in time with the soundtrack thundering in my headphones. Long ago, I’d hurry back to my desk to jot these tales down, but now I don’t bother. After I get the first few lines down on paper, the words twist back on themselves like snakes. I can’t see my way through to the end of the plotlines like I once did.
I’ve always used outlines for my novels, sometimes creating them in such detail that I could have considered my rough notes my first draft. In my mind, however, that was only research: the scratching in the dirt meant to help me eventually race across the finish line. Somehow my characters still found room for improvisation, and I loved the times when they had become so real they surprised me with their actions. How could that happen when I had put so much of myself into them? After all, aren’t writers supposed to write what we know?
The last book I tried to write proved I didn’t know myself so well after all. About four years ago, I named a character after myself, using a nickname only close family members knew. I don’t know why other than the fact I felt I could edit out such lazy writing later. He wasn’t meant to be the main character, anyway. In my mind, he was a plot device meant to bring the two protagonists together. Just to make sure I’d hate him enough that he would disappear into the scenery, I gave him every one of my faults, only bigger. Yet he refused to go away.
First, he wandered from my script and then he bucked my characterization. He kept all the flaws I’d created for him and came up with a few new whoppers along the way, but I began to despise him for an entirely different reason. He made me feel. He’d become overwhelmed and I’d end up blinking back tears. He’d face something he found frightening and my stomach would knot with dread. The thing is, he hadn’t even faced the monster yet. That far into the novel, I hardly knew who or what the monster was. My outline had been a tad vague on that subject this time around. I figured the beast the characters faced at the end of the book would play second fiddle to the one in their heads. When the main characters descended into the labyrinth to confront their personal Minotaurs, I hadn’t thought this character important enough to join them, yet there I was, too afraid to keep writing his story because I’d discovered I was journeying down into myself. Without planning it, the novel had become shadow-work, and I was afraid to confront the ending. As a magician and a person, I was terrified of what I would learn and become.
I stopped writing the novel. I stopped writing everything, except for bits and blogs and shopping lists. I continued to call myself a writer. It sat badly with me, knowing how little fiction I still produced, enough so that I’ve put artist first in my description here. It must sit badly with some of the spirits I work with too, since Amaymon recently gave me a tongue lashing about only using labels I feel I deserve. He knows how I hate feeling like a poser.
I suppose that is why prayers to my patron about what I should do in March for the #domagick challenge were answered with nightmares about fighting my way to the center of a labyrinth, endlessly building a labyrinth, or scaling a labyrinth wall. When I was so coy as to ask if he meant I should work with maze-related spirits, I swear I heard my patron’s eyes roll all the way from the astral plane. Since then, all I’ve gotten from him is silence. He doesn’t enjoy speaking to the purposely obtuse. Neither did Seere last week. I know if I keep being so stupid they’ll stop talking to me altogether. It’s happened before.
They won’t tell me what to do in March—or at all. The nagging voice in the back of my head is entirely my own, and the knowledge that I must decide how to fix this mess gnaws at me. It’s why I’m so frequently out of sorts. It’s why I feel trapped all the time. I cannot blame a failing body I cannot escape, or even a series of unfortunate circumstances. I was the one that turned my back on writing, and by doing so I was the one that chained me here. With writing, I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted. The price to be paid was knowing myself a little bit better after every voyage, and it was a price I’d finally found too high.
It seems I’ve paid it anyway by not writing, only in smaller increments and with a different currency. Instead of whatever terrible secret about myself I once hoped to avoid, I have learned I was cowardly–that I am still a coward. I am no more eager to write myself to the center of that maze than I once was. Truthfully, I sometimes wonder if I am still capable of following that particular thread to my Minotaur again. Surely he awaits me in other stories, should I be brave enough to venture into them, but I realize the walls on that novel may have long crumbled. Knowing they could lie in ruins gives me little comfort. New tales could trap me just as easily.
Aren’t we all afraid of being trapped in a cycle of pain at one time or another? I worry I will start to write and get swamped with emotion again. I fear a dam will break inside me and I will not be able to hold back the flood of tears or terror that follows. Friends have said similar things to me when they have been frightened about opening up, and I have assured them such strong feelings will pass. Yet what about the damage in the meantime? I have no idea how I could handle this within the context of a thirty-day challenge.
Perhaps that is it. I can’t. I can’t put a timeline on it. I know I can turn to the spirits I work with for help, if only to ask for the courage to finally tackle this problem. I know the courage is somewhere deep within me, just like I know talking about all this is the first step towards finding a solution.
The first step towards the center of the labyrinth…